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Battle of the Lenses: Performance (New) vs. Character (Vintage)

07.13.12 @ 12:00PM Tags : , , ,

Just because a lens is “perfect,” doesn’t mean you’re going to like the images it produces. While sharpness and flare reduction are high on the list for modern lenses, often they can produce rather sterile images that make for easy color grading, but don’t really have much character. Steve Oakley sent over the video below in which he does a rather comprehensive review of not only a couple newer lenses, but also some seriously vintage glass.

This was shot with a Canon 60D:

The newer Rokinon/Samyang 35mm f/1.4 and the Tamron 17-50m f/2.8 perform wonderfully –nice and detailed wide open without too much flare. That’s to be expected with newer lenses and newer designs. What if you don’t want a “perfect” lens though? Old lenses can give your moving images tons of character. There are situations that might not call for the best lenses money can buy, because a lens that doesn’t perform as well wide open might actually be more pleasing to the eye. Some softer lenses can help when you don’t need to see every pore on someone’s skin in a close-up.

Another point the video beautifully illustrates is that most lenses look pretty good once you stop them down to f/5.6 to f/8, regardless of age. People pay good money for fast lenses to perform well wide open, but if you’re often shooting outside at higher apertures, just about any decent lens you can find will do the job at those f-stops. Many people are always searching for perfect lenses, but sometimes the lens you find at a garage sale can become the lens you actually shoot with the most.

Does anyone use any vintage lenses that may not perform very well but have plenty of character? If so, let us know which ones you’re using below.

Link: Steve Oakley


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Description image 26 COMMENTS

  • Definitely agree with this, “flaws” add character making your image even more unique.
    I have the Canon 50mm F1.4 and the Helios 44-2 58mm F2, I never use the Canon.
    With the digital era, especially in recent years, we developed bad habits.

  • Yes this was shot on a 60D.

  • Good job!
    What I was happy to see is that, when I tried to shoot with my old Canon FD lenses (all beautiful character early-80′s glass) I found them to make a lot of flare sometimes. Now I’m somewhat satisfied and reassured that they don’t “suck” they are just like that.

    Don’t know how it is to paste own stuff here, but I’d wonder what you say about more or less my first DSLR attempt on a wobbly DIY slider prototype, also with an 550D and glasses like Canon FD 50mm f1.4, 28mm f1.8 and a Sigma 70-200. First upload, didn’ t consider Vimeo compression algorhytm screwing gamma.

  • and yeah, agree with Raphael.

  • john jeffreys on 07.13.12 @ 5:42PM

    I hate EF/tamron crap and newer lenses that are made for digital sensors. I’m about to start my set of duclos modded leica r primes, starting next week with the 50 f/2 and I am pretty sure it will be my last set of lenses ill ever buy, aside from the occasional PL lens rental for more complicated projects.

  • I want some lenses that flare. Does anyone have or know of a list of those that do?

  • Best one I’ve used is the Helios 44-2 58mm F2

  • i got a contax zeiss lenses kit (20,50,85,135)
    + a samyang 30mm 1.4

    cant be beaten for about 1000£

  • One of my favorite lenses is an old Olympus om 50 f1.8. I mount it with an adapter on my gh2 and it looks awesome. They are $50 on eBay and I got mine from my parents closet.

  • I love my old skool Pentax Kmount Auto Sears 50mm. I bought it on ebay super cheap, but it looks awesome. It has great color, and that vintage feel.

  • I work with old photographic lenses in all my works.
    I work now mainly on Corporate videos, buth I like to study a story and give it character with old lenses.
    My favourites:
    Pentacon 135 2.8 and Fujinon 50mm 2.2
    That’s an example:
    Here I used: Vivitar 135 f2.8, Helios 50mm f2, Sun 28mm f2.8.

  • I have a couple of autofocus modern lenses for run & gun and stills.
    But my favourites are the 2 sets I’ve slowly collected : one Mamiya-Sekor set (28, 35, 50, 55, 135) and one Yashica set (28, 50, 135).
    All these lenses are strictly manual focus with a long focus throw.
    Combined with the Ektachrome picture style I use these give great results for a more vintage look that doesn’t need much grading.

  • I love my Super Takumar 50mm 1.4 on my 5D but it hits the mirror at infinity. It’s ok though because I almost never focus at infinity with that lens. It’s got this really dreamy bokeh. The lens is a bit yellowish though but with the proper white balance and post processing this can be offset.

  • I’m a big fan of old Olympus Zuiko glass – I use a 50mm F1.4 Zuiko a lot on a Panasonic GH2.

    One big advantage these old MF lenses have is the smoothness of the focusing mechanism – with modern lenses the manual focus ring is a bit of an afterthought, and is often quite sticky and imprecise. Rack focusing with older lenses is generally a lot easier, and overall just a nicer experience.

    • john jeffreys on 07.19.12 @ 5:08PM

      newer still lenses are designed for autofocus. its really sad, and the focus rings are made of shitty plastic and are not accurate or smooth at all. they sure dont make em like they used to. even my old and cheap canon FD mount 50mm 1.8 focuses so buttery smooth and nice

  • Victor Nguyen on 07.19.12 @ 4:41PM

    I need to find a 135 but there are too many options and I don’t know which one to choose. Can anyone give me some tips. I also need to find a good 24mm to replace the Tokina 11-16 and I heard Olympus is good. And for micro I’m thinking of going with nikor 55 f2.8 ais. Please give me some feed back

    • Victor, I found a Jupiter 37A on ebay for about 30 Euro. It’s pretty sharp considering it’s age and is in great condition. The best thing about this lens? Clickless aperture!

  • Go for a Rokkor 135 (Minolta) or a Russian Tair.

  • I have the Tamron 17-50 2.8 and I use it a lot for photography. Other than being really sharp and contrasty (which I don’t think is bad for most pictures), it has one major flaw: the bokeh is not looking good.
    Because of that it is not a good portrait lens for outdoor portraits because backgrounds like trees and other small structures show these spaghetti like edges (don’t know how to describe it better).

    With really affordable lenses there is always a trade-off, I guess. When you want super sharp and contrasty plus a really nice bokeh, you have to spend more than a couple hundred bucks per lens (like Zeiss Digi/Ultra/Master Primes)

  • I have a set of Yashica ML lenses. They are surprisingly sharp for 70s-era glass, with a very rich, warm color rendition. Great for HD video. Considering that these came from the Zeiss Contax factory, and they use much of the same design as Zeiss glass, you’re getting close to the look with much less cost.

  • Daniel Mimura on 07.24.12 @ 3:25PM

    I like my Nikon 43-86mm f3.5.

    It heads the list of Ken Rockwell’s 10 worst lenses ever.

    Sharpness is overrated…(Rockwell rails against the lens here, but he also has written articles about how shaprness is overrated, and this coming from a stills guy):

    I like to degrade the image even more sometimes with a tele-extender…wide open, particularly at night without a matte box or hood protecting those awful lens coatings that never seem to come clean…it looks gorgeous!

    The problem with using lenses like this are they don’t really cut in well with other footage, similar to old movies that shoot the wide shots clean, but use a soft filter for close ups of woman and/or old people.

  • Am I the only one thinking that he is kind of testing the wrong lenses?
    These are a selection of the middle range lens at best for stills and video and fair play they are his own collection but if you are going to buy a set of lenses you want to buy a set that are going to be high quality.

    If you are looking at sharpness none of these lens are really great. Surely comparing the Nikon, Canon, Zeiss against their modern equivalents is far far better, and if you are going for lenses which you want old looking shots and a bunch of effects surely you’ve got to look at the old soviet lenses.

    In my opinion and based on my own selection which consists of a variety of the Canon, Nikon, Zeiss old and new the reasoning for using them is pretty simple if you are looking for video then Zeiss or Voigtlander unless you want that old feel and then you really have to research what exactly you want. The sharpness is important for post work.
    For photography most of the high performance can L series or high end Nikon’s are wonderful and the old Nikon’s are really wonderful too.
    But please not these lenses, wide open and on a big screen they are softer than a teddybear sat in a bunch of pillow photographed with vaseline

  • I completed my vintage set of soviet 35mm & 50mm f2 primes and a soviet 80-200 f/4.5 zoom with a Vivitar 19mm f3.8. I have a couple of new and vintage nikkors, but i only use them for “jobs”.

    Those soviets and vivitar just fit my aesthetic, their distorty bokeh separates the subject so well, the flare and abberations and all. I think one of my most beautiful stand-alone shots is a pan of a blooming cherry tree with the soviet 80-200mm zoom wide open. That ghosting and soft focus makes foliage look like foliage, not something coarse.